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N.J. Mayor Disagrees With Gov. Christie Over Syrian Refugees


Now let's hear one more voice in the debate over admitting Syrian refugees into the United States. We've heard Michigan's governor, who wants a pause in admitting refugees. We've heard Washington state's governor on this program, who welcomes them. And now we have the mayor of Prospect Park, N.J. He is of interest because his governor, Chris Christie, opposes letting in more Syrian refugees at this time and also because the mayor himself is Syrian-American. His name is Mohamed Khairullah. Welcome to the program, sir.

MOHAMED KHAIRULLAH: Thank you, Steve. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do you make of your governor's concerns?

KHAIRULLAH: I think they're baseless. I was appalled and disgusted when I heard them, particularly when he said he wouldn't even allow a 5-year-old orphan to come into the U.S. The governor, in his quest to appease the rightwing radicals, has brushed all Syrians with a wide brush of terrorism.

INSKEEP: Let's be fair to Chris Christie here. He said he wouldn't accept 5-year-old orphans because he doesn't trust President Obama to screen them. Are there concerns in your mind with the screening process for refugees?

KHAIRULLAH: I don't think there's a concern. The government does a good job with the screening process. Europe is a different animal. They have allowed a massive number of refugees to come through without a thorough screening process. The U.S. is not in the same condition. We have a long and tedious screening process. I don't think - I think he's playing politics and not standing for our principles as a country, as a nation.

INSKEEP: Some people may know that you are from the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has been held, at least partially, by rebels for quite some time. What do you hear from people you know there?

KHAIRULLAH: The conditions are extremely bad. You know, people rather have a safe zone and end to war rather than leave Syria. However, under the current conditions, when they have to flee, we have to, as a nation, to continue to uphold our principles of welcoming those who are oppressed.

INSKEEP: Is your city ready to welcome more Syrian refugees should they get in?

KHAIRULLAH: Prospect Park has always welcomed immigrants. Prospect Park started as a Dutch community over a hundred years ago. And now 40 percent of our community is Latinos. It's only 30 percent Caucasian at this point. And we're very diverse, and we're more than welcome - more than ready to welcome those refugees.

INSKEEP: I should mention you've spoken out a couple of times on this. Have you heard any feedback from people on social media or elsewhere?

KHAIRULLAH: Yes. We received a lot of support, obviously some criticism as well. But you know, the nation is divided. We're divided on the issue. But I must highlight that New Jersey has thousands of Syrians who contribute positively to the community, whether it's in the private sector or the public sector. There are police officers who are Syrians. There are doctors who are Syrian, teachers, you know. We're very integrated into the community. We have 75 refugees who are already in New Jersey, already found jobs and are working. Their kids are already in the schools. So at this point, you know, I think the Syrian refugees, when screened properly, will add value to our nation and to the communities.

INSKEEP: Mayor Khairullah, thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.